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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

"4 sale - playground"

Recess, Wauwatosa, Jefferson School,


Right next to the "Kids eat free" sign in the old Lutheran (now Baptist) church yard: "4 sale - playgound."

The for-sale playground structure fills the entire pocket between the church and its former school on North Avenue. I recognize the church's original name, carved in stone, from my father's baptismal certificate, over one hundred years old now and written in German. I doubt they fed kids there in my dad's day, though they were not strangers to hunger. But those old Germans believed in exercise to build the sound body needed to house a sound mind.

Children don't live by food alone, regardless of who provides the food. To grow strong and whole, they need to climb and jump and play. Move through space, bend and stretch, reach for the sky.

Play is how children learn. Educational research shows that kids learn best when their entire bodies are engaged, at least up until age 9. And yet Wauwatosa's Jefferson School recently eliminated recess for 6 and 7 year olds, saying there's no time for it.

Strange: workplace research shows that workers are better able to think and concentrate when they take occasional breaks to get up and move around. Why we'd think it would work differently for wiggly children is a mystery.

Abandoning recess may be a sign a school is in trouble. The poorer the school community (in all the senses of the word), the less likely it is to have recess. Chicago schools haven't had recess for decades. And nobody is saying recesslessness has improved education there.  While Tosa is tossing its recess aside, Chicago schools are reinstating it.  Kids who have it behave better and learn better. There's evidence for that. Behind the cut recess notion is only wishful thinking.

Maybe our schools won't sell off the equipment to raise money to feed kids, but it's not much of a stretch to imagine the equipment, often built by parent volunteers, sold or dismantled to remove legal liability as kids spend more time inside, in front of electronic screens.

A whole generation of kids has grown up not knowing how to play, so the Chicago schools have hired coaches to teach them what do do with recess.

Principals and administrators hate recess. It creates scheduling and staffing problems. Every year there's the kid-with-the-broken-arm potential litigation headache. It's inconvenient. But merely doubling down, working harder and longer at the same thing you're already not doing very well, seldom improves outcomes.

Maybe the administrators need some recess periods to improve their thinking.

I don't know which is more heartbreaking: that children in America have to go to churches to be fed, or that playgrounds are being closed, sold off, or never built in the first place. Whose image of a future worth living is all work and no play?
 

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